Climate change-driven extinctions of tree species affect forest functioning more than random extinctions

Raúl García-Valdés, Harald Bugmann, Xavier Morin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Aim: Climate change affects forest functioning not only through direct physiological effects such as modifying photosynthesis and growing season lengths, but also through indirect effects on community composition related to species extinctions and colonizations. Such indirect effects remain poorly explored in comparison with the direct ones. Biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) studies commonly examine the effects of species loss by eliminating species randomly. However, species extinctions caused by climate change will depend on the species’ vulnerability to the new environmental conditions, thus occurring in a specific, non-random order. Here, we evaluated whether successive tree species extinctions, according to their vulnerability to climate change, impact forest functions differently than random species losses. Location: Eleven temperate forests across a gradient of climatic conditions in central Europe. Methods: We simulated tree community dynamics with a forest succession model to study the impact of species loss on the communities’ aboveground biomass, productivity and temporal stability. Tree species were removed from the local pool (1) randomly, and according to (2) their inability to be recruited under a warmer climate or (3) their increased mortality under drier conditions. Results: Results showed that non-random species loss (i.e., based on their vulnerability to warmer or drier conditions) changed forest functioning at a different rate, and sometimes direction, than random species loss. Furthermore, directed extinctions, unlike random, triggered tipping points along the species loss process where forest functions were strongly impacted. These tipping points occurred after fewer extinctions in forests located in the coldest areas, where ecosystem functioning relies on fewer species. Main conclusions: We showed that the extinction of species in a deterministic and mechanistically motivated order, in this case the species vulnerability to climate change, strengthens the selection effect of diversity on ecosystem functioning. BEF studies exploring the impact of species loss on ecosystem functioning using random extinctions thus possibly underestimate the potential effect of biodiversity loss when driven by a directional force, such as climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)906-918
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF)
  • biomass
  • climate change
  • forest succession model (FSM)
  • indirect effects of climate change
  • non-random species loss
  • productivity and temporal stability
  • tipping point


Dive into the research topics of 'Climate change-driven extinctions of tree species affect forest functioning more than random extinctions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this